Israelis killed Hamas leader Abdelaziz Al Rantissi yesterday in a missile strike on his car.

Al Rantissi's son Mohammed, 27, and a bodyguard Akram Nassar, 35, were also killed in the attack, hospital officials claimed. Palestinian sources later denied that Al Rantissi's son had been killed in the attack.

Al Rantissi's wife was also said to be in the car.

Doctors fight to save the critically injured Al Rantissi in a Gaza hospital. Picture: Reuters
Al Rantissi's car was hit with missiles yesterday evening on the road outside his home, leaving only the burned, destroyed vehicle. After the explosion, Israeli helicopters were heard in the area.

Al Rantissi was taken to the hospital in critical condition, his body pocked with bloody wounds, and rushed into emergency surgery, but he died five minutes after arriving at the hospital.

Five pedestrians were also wounded, hospital officials said.

About 2,000 angry Palestinians marched through the streets carrying pieces of Al Rantissi's car shouting, "revenge, revenge."

The militant Hamas leader was one of Israel's top targets after it had assassinated Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in an airstrike last month.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei said Israel's assassination of the Hamas leader was a direct result of encouragement from the United States.

"The Palestinian cabinet considers this terrorist Israeli campaign is a direct result of American encouragement and the complete bias of the American administration towards the Israeli government," he said in his reaction.

"We condemn in strongest possible terms this Israeli crime of assassinating Dr. Al Rantissi. This is state terror, and the Israeli government is fully responsible for the consequences of this action," said Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat who earlier in the day was reported to have cancelled his trip to the US.

Israeli officials justified the attack as part of the ongoing battle against militants. "We have to continue this war, every time and every place. And this story with Al Rantissi shows how the army can get everywhere. We have to continue, we have no other choice," Cabinet Minister Gideon Ezra told Israel Radio.

Reached by telephone from Damascus, Syria-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal was shaken, and said in a sad voice that he could not comment on the killing.

Senior Hamas figure Ismail Haniya vowed that Al Rantissi's blood "will not flow in vain".

Another top Hamas leader, Moussa Abu Marzouk, said the group has the right to avenge in kind the assassination of its military wing leader.

Arab officials and Muslim leaders decried the assassination as "an ugly crime" that indicated Israel's intent to sabotage any peace hopes and suggested American support for such killings.

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon expressed their anger by firing shots in the air at the country's largest refugee camp. Jordanian State Minister and government spokeswoman Asma Khader condemned the killing as an "ugly crime" that "diminishes hopes in achieving peace in the region."